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        We Won't Go: Refusing to Fight During the Vietnam War | Lesson Plan

        Learn about the experiences of two men who refused to fight during the Vietnam War.  One registered as a noncombatant conscientious objector and the other refused to register for the draft and eventually turned himself in to authorities and served time in prison, in Lesson Four of Vietnam War Oral History Lesson Plans.

        When he turned 18 years old, Thomas Boaz of Decatur, Illinois, was obligated by law to register for the draft. He was living in Germany at the time as an exchange student. He went to the Consulate General of the United States in Munich and registered as a "noncombatant conscientious objector." As he waited to be drafted, he wrote a letter home telling his parents what he had done.  Timothy Kendall was raised in Richmond, Virginia and is the oldest of 13 children.  He grew up with very little money, but he managed to attend the University of Notre Dame in Indiana through scholarships and loans.  While at Notre Dame, he took courses on the philosophy of nonviolence and learned more abou the Vietnam War and the draft.  By the time he was a junior, Kendall decided the draft and war were unethical and he refused to register and was in violation of the law.  Committed to pacifism, he turned himself in to authorities and spent two years in prison.



        Lesson Summary

        Students begin with a discussion and take-a-stand activity on the questions, “When is it right to kill” and “In the midst of war, is it right to refuse to serve in the military.” After discussing these questions they break into groups to read about Conscientious Objection and pacifism during a war. Students then jigsaw back together and teach each other about their topics before viewing oral histories from a conscientious objector (CO) to the Vietnam War and a pacifist who refused to fight. While analyzing the videos, students complete a graphic organizer that helps to identify the reasons why the subjects refused to fight and that decision’s impact on their lives. They then compare notes with a partner, and contribute to a teacher-directed discussion on the organizer. Finally, they complete a formative assessment asking for their opinion on the appropriateness of claiming refusing to fight during a war.

        Time Allotment

        50-75 minutes

        Learning Objectives

        1. Students will be able to define the terms conscientious objector (CO) and pacifist, and explain the requirements that an American citizen must meet to become a CO.
        2. Students will be able to make and defend a claim about refusing to fight during a war.
        3. Students will be able to describe some of the reasons Americans refused to fight during the Vietnam War.
        4. Students will be able to explain how refusing to fight impacted the lives of some Americans.


        Common Core and College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards:

        Common Core State Standards:

        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
        • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

        College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework Standards:

        • D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
        • D2.Civ.2.9-12. Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time, and alternative models from other countries, past and present.

        Introductory Activity

        Bell Ringer: Write the following questions on the board:

        • When is it right to kill?
        • In the midst of war, is it right to refuse to serve in the military?

        Give students appropriate time to reflect on the questions and write responses in their journals or on a piece of notebook paper. Then lead a discussion over the first question: When is it right to kill?  Be aware of the differing opinions and help students try to find common ground without becoming defensive or unnecessarily argumentative.

        When ready, address the second question, “In the midst of war, is it right to refuse to serve in the military?” Use the take-a-stand technique for this question:

        • Ask students who answer “yes” to this question to stand up and move to one corner of the room.
        • Ask students who answer “no” to this question to stand up and move to a different corner of the room.
        • Ask students who are “not sure” to move to a third corner.
        • Now facilitate a debate between the “yes” and “no” camps. Make sure students know they can get up and move to a different corner at any time if they change their mind.
        • Use this technique until the groundwork has been successfully laid for a discussion of conscientious objectors.

        Debrief the Take-A-Stand and transition to the activity.

        Learning Activities

        Direct student attention to learning goal one, which should be written or projected. Answer any questions about this learning goal.

        Break the class into two groups, A1 and A2. Give each group it’s appropriate hand out, and have the groups read and answer their questions together. When students have a good grasp of their topic, partner each student up with a student from the other group. Now students should teach their partner about their term (pacifist or conscientious objector).

        Once students have had enough time to teach each other, lead a teacher-led discussion of each term, writing key information on the board. Make sure to validate all sides of the answers and to make sure students feel safe to share their real feelings.

        Transition to the oral histories. Inform students that they will now spend some time hearing the stories of Americans who either served as a CO or refused to serve in Vietnam.

        Give each student a copy of the Processing Chart: Refusing to Fight During the Vietnam War

        Project the interviews or direct students to the interviews through the use of personal devices.  Give students ample time to work through the interviews and complete the processing chart.

        Once it seems clear that most/all of the students have had enough time to watch the selected oral histories, have students partner up with a nearby student and compare notes from the oral histories.

        Culminating Activity

        Facilitate a class discussion on the questions from the processing chart, then hand out Exit Slip: Refusing to fight during a War.  After giving students appropriate time to complete the exit slip, collect them as they leave the room.


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